The third stall from the left
*Trigger warning: This post contains some content that could be sensitive to sexual assault victims.
I found myself in the bathroom of the Kauffman Center.
There for the same reason as the women in the stalls around me — to relieve myself, of course.
But as soon as I closed the door on the third stall from the left I found myself alone with my mind. It started, strong and unannounced.
I was sobbing.
Tears streaming down my face uncontrollably. I was a hose that had been stopped up by the public's foot and once it lifted I released.
It was Friday night. Rupi Kaur had just spoke.
There are a couple of things that built up to this moment in the bathroom stall.
There was the night before.
The night before I dreamt he was on top of me.
Forcing himself inside of me as I lied numbly below, too far away from my body to tell it to fight.
I used to have these dreams often. But I've healed so much and over a decade has passed. Why did this dream come back?
I woke up paralyzed in that terrible world between sleep and awake.
My heart was racing and I knew I was in my own bed. I knew my husband was downstairs. I knew I was safe. Yet the fear still ran through me. My body, just like in my dream, could not move. I couldn't even will my lips to part and yell for Kris.
Finally, the door to reality unlocked. I ripped it open and yelled, "KRIIIIIIS!!! I NEED YOU!!!!!"
He came barreling up the stairs a bit confused. Do I tell him what I was dreaming about? It would just upset him. And is it stupid that I'm still having this dream 14 years later? I'm a little embarrassed by this point. And ashamed.
I should have my shit together by now.
"I had a bad dream," I said.
He sat on the bed and stroked my back in the comforting way only he can. When I dream of ghosts or murderers, this "fixes" me right away. But this dream wasn't a result of a make-believe movie we just watched. This was a result of a scene from the cinema of my memory.
"I dreamt about my rape." I now keep no secrets from my life partner and decided to explain why I was in this state.
He just stared at me, unsure of what to say. But like he always does, he continued to comfort me. Tell me I'm safe. Be there for me. That's all he could do.
I chalked it up to the full moon and fell back asleep. I woke up the next morning like any other Friday, ignoring the uneasiness that was still whirling in my stomach. I should have my shit together by now.
Fast forward to Friday night.
This wound that I thought was so well healed suddenly had a fresh cut going into TEDxKC, an event where progressive thinkers would share their gifts to an audience of a few thousand open minds.
Ironically I almost bought Rupi Kaur's book just the day before. And ignorantly I didn't realize she was speaking at the very event I was to attend. (And a copy of her book was in our goodie bags!)
It was as if everything in the last 48 hours led up to her on stage a few feet away from me with her long, shiny braid and her beautiful white dress.
They gave a trigger warning for sexual assault victims before she spoke. But like the other 1 in 5 women (at least) in the auditorium who had experienced this trauma, I remained seated.
Kris reached out to hold my hand, one of those seemingly small transactions that carry more power than words. (Yeah, he's the best.)
Rupi began her poetry.
Her words took us from a normal day to her assault. Because that's how it always begins, I suppose. A normal day that turns into one that changes everything.
They were words that so perfectly wrapped up every feeling I had these last 14 years.
"You locked up my voice there where it would stay for years."
"I was disgusted by my own body."
"I grew tired of carrying your guilt and shame on my shoulders. It's not mine to carry."
(Those probably aren't exactly her words. It's my memory of them.)
I shed a few tears as she spoke and my body began to shake as her words made their way to my truth.
By the end of her speech, her words weren't so heavy. She talked about why she started writing and how she got where she is now. I was no longer shaking and I had wiped away those silent tears.
Then it was intermission.
I thought I was fine. Like always.
Like I did after recounting my assault to the police. Like I did when I stuffed my voice down and locked it up with Ana and Mia. Like I did when I went to bed just the night before.
And then that bathroom stall door shut and I realized I was not fine.
Rupi brought out a piece of my 15-year-old self that needed to cry. And so I gave that teenage me this body that she felt so unwelcome in before. I let her have it, because it's hers, too. It's always been hers. And then like she needed to years ago, she took residence in this body of ours and she cried.
I used to be a professional at pretending I was fine. I even fooled myself. But instead of crying in a stall like I was now I would shove my fingers in my throat and purge my food from the day, sufficiently numbing my emotions. And instead of calling for help after a nightmare, I would starve myself for days, making this body that had caused me so much pain disappear. I've come such a long way.
These were not the first tears I'd shed since I began this healing journey, but each time I get a bit closer to home.
Once the tears subsided I opened the door to exit the solitude of my mind and re-enter the world.
I felt lighter as I seemed to float toward the sink.
I wiped smeared mascara off my face and stood in the mirror, gazing at my reflection. As I looked at myself, something looked different. In that bathroom I met a part of me I had always known but never before met.
I walked out of that bathroom with all of my selves.
The younger, hurting me. The numb, disappearing me. The strong, healing me. And this new part of me. The part that, like Rupi, has spent too long carrying his guilt and shame on my shoulders. The part that unloaded his burden on the crisp white tiles of the Kauffman Center's bathroom floor.
When I came out of the bathroom my friend sweetly offered me a delicious cheese and bread concoction and I accepted it, without the slightest feeling of shame. I had left that in the third stall on the left.
Thank you, Rupi.
Because of you, I left last night lighter than when I arrived. Your words didn't just heal yourself. And I'm sure I'm not the only of the 1 in 5 in that auditorium who experienced some healing that night.
To paraphrase her words: My body is my home. He cannot have any part of it. I'm opening the windows.
After writing this I felt compelled to clean. I cleaned our house, I opened the windows and I lit a sage stick to clear the air, literally and symbolically.
I cleared the air and made space for all of me — especially for the 15-year-old me.
I welcomed her here in this space of ours. Space for healing. Space for crying. Space to just be.
I'm opening the windows and the sun is shining through.
I wrote this for me without intending to share it. It was a means for me to process the last few days, as writing helps me understand what I'm feeling. But I decided to post it publically because I believe we should be having these conversations. If Rupi Kaur wasn't so open with her own healing journey, I would not have experienced the healing I needed last night. I may not be as open as women like Rupi or my sister, Erin. I don't see myself on a stage like them, sharing my story to empower others. I feel my energy is more suited for healing in a yoga studio as I guide others' awareness inward on their mat.
However, we can all share. It doesn't have to be on a stage. It can be with one person.
When we tell our story, the story so many of us share, we can help each other heal. And we can bring attention the change that is needed so that our daughters don't have to share our past.
P.S. If you'd like to learn more about Rupi Kaur and her work, check out her website. And do yourself a solid and buy her book.